+ Developing healthy eating habits in toddlers - part two

Developing Healthy Eating Habits in Toddlers – Part Two

Continuing on from my last article on feeding toddlers, here are some more ideas and essentials for developing healthy eating habits in toddlers and establishing a love of ‘real’ whole foods as they grow into children.  I’m writing this based on raising my own two children and 18 years of working with sick and fussy children.  I don’t know it all and every child is so very different, but here are some more of my general thoughts.

New and changing tastes
Every child is different and their needs, likes, and dislikes are constantly evolving, as is their appetite.  This is often frustrating for parents and makes our lives with kids all the more tricky.  But this is NORMAL so don’t let it become a source of stress.  Research indicates a new food may need to be offered 8 or more times before a toddler will accept it.

I could list pages of foods my 5 and 9 years old loved when they were little and now hate (and vice versa).  That is why it is so important to always offer and encourage them to give all foods a try.  As they get older (and for very stubborn children) reward charts are great – they don’t have to eat it all, just try it.  Persist, persist and then persist a little more!

It took me 3 years of putting salad leaves on both of my kids plates before they happily began to eat (and ask for leaves).  My son used to pick up the leaves and say ‘don’t like flowers’, to which I’d respond (trying to mask my frustration), ‘they are leaves, not flowers.’  But he’d throw them over onto my plate regardless.

Don’t fret when they fuss
Easier said than done, and I understand I have the benefit of hindsight here.  But know this…your toddler will not always eat what you want them to eat when you want them to eat it.  Their appetite will also vary enormously from day to day, week to week.  Even now, sometimes my kids eat a lot, other days only a little.  Accept this and don’t let it get to you!  Until they can communicate with you, you will find this frustrating.  But you have no choice but to honour their needs.  Trying to force feed or coerce your toddler into eating is pointless.  Their bodies know best.  They may just not be hungry so by coercing them to eat you are teaching them that they should eat even when they are not hungry.  They may be feeling off colour or teething so food is not appealing.  They may feel too tired to eat.  Whatever the cause, try, try again then leave it with them to decide when they are hungry.

Offer them a variety of whole foods, but if they reject them, leave them be.  Whatever you do, don’t offer them processed or sugary foods to satisfy yourself that they have “eaten something.”  More harm than good comes from this.

When they are sick
Sickness is a time, in my experience that many bad eating habits are formed.  I can’t tell you how many chronically unwell children I have treated who have developed serious sugar addictions and terrible eating habits (which has made them even more sick ironically), whilst sick.

Sickness is a time to pay even more attention to your child’s eating habits, not give into demands for treat foods.  If your child doesn’t have an appetite when sick, then just provide them with lots of fluids and support them.  I find coconut water goes down well (and is isotonic) and most importantly a bone broth to drink or use as a stock for a soup is so very healing.  Read more about bone broth (and a recipe) here.  I always have a supply of jars of broth in my freezer for an immune and nutritional boost when required.  You can always add a little rice or even rice noodles if that’s what they feel like (i.e.; chicken noodle soup).

Finally, follow their lead but also stay somewhat in control.  They will only eat nutritionally inadequate foods if that’s what you provide them.  Their little bodies need more nutrition for growth and repair during toddlerhood more than ever.  What an amazing gift for your child – to provide them with healing, nourishing foods and develop a lifelong appreciation of whole foods.


Please feel free contribute some of your experiences (or frustrations) by posting a comment below.


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Feeding toddlers

  • Tracey

    Do you have any food ideas for a 1 year old who is teething? She has 3 back teeth coming through and is in a lot of pain so won’t eat much food (understandably!)

    • Hi Tracey, oh your poor bub, nothing worse than a toothache! I’d advise to follow her lead as much as possible. Sometimes chewing or gnawing on something hard feels good, but other times it is painful. I’d always offer a variety of textures to accommodate. if she doesn’t want to chew at all, bone broth is a fabulous source of liquid nourishment, plus it’s very anti-inflammatory. Some babies like coolness on their gums – you can freeze strips of banana or steamed carrot – like a teething rusk only icy. Cooled chamomile tea or homeopathic chamomilla in a 6 or 30c is effective for soothing irritable teething babies too. Weleda do a nice teething relief remedy. Hope this has helped a little, all the best, it will pass! G x

  • Michelle

    I struggle between what you said in part one (they should be eating what you’re eating for dinner) and what you say here – their tastes and preferences change every day. I always offer my 18-month-old what we are eating, or prepare it in a way that she’s more likely to eat, but very rarely is that what she wants. It’s not that she’s not hungry, she’ll ask for more food, but I’m left to figure out what exactly she wants while she’s screaming for something else! At what point do I start enforcing that she has to eat what mommy made for dinner, and stop going through everything in the kitchen until I find something she wants (of course I only offer healthy options, and I try to limit fruit – which she’d happily eat for every meal!).

    • Hi Michelle, In parenting my two kids I have always tried to ‘start as I intend to continue’ across the board. So for me that has meant that I was not prepared to continue to ‘find’ foods that my kids felt like for that meal for the rest of their childhood – so I set my expectation for them to eat what I had made. I always had lots of options for them so I was pretty certain that some part of it would appeal (and I always incentivised them to at least try everything on their plate), but there were times that wasn’t the case. So in answer to your question, the point you choose to only serve the meal you have prepared for your family is entirely up to you. For me a little persistence when my kids were little means I now have kids that happily eat a huge variety of whole food. I know they are in the minority. This article may interest you (the case study at the end) http://wellnourished.com.au/why-kids-want-processed-food/ Hope that helps G x

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